When Preexisting Conditions (That You Didn’t Know You Had) Keep You From Living Your (Rural) Life

Suzanne didn’t know she had preexisting conditions until she was denied health insurance. An Iowa farmer, the thought of being uninsured was hard enough, but Suzanne was pregnant.

Her health record was clear, except for a miscarriage and some minor jaw pain. The issue was resolved and did not surface again until she quit her job as a teacher to farm full-time. When she applied to be included in her husband’s independent insurance policy, she was denied.

“I was up a creek,” she said. “With group insurance, you are protected as a woman, because they have to carry pregnancy. But on an individual market – it’s a la carte!”

Through much struggle, she obtained insurance in time to give birth to her healthy baby boy. She and her family continue to pay high premiums for independent coverage. But even though she’s covered, Suzanne says she’s still afraid to go to the doctor. “I’m afraid of this pre-existing condition thing -- to have something discovered,” she said. “I’m afraid until 2014”.

Like millions of other Americans, Suzanne is waiting for the continued roll-out of the Affordable Care Act. In 2014, preexisting conditions will cease to be a factor in obtaining affordable care. Insurers will finally be required to provide affordable care for everyone – regardless of health history.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, much has changed -- and much will change -- to make affordable and quality care accessible for rural people. Insurers are no long able to exclude children with preexisting conditions. And state-based high risk pools now cover people with preexisting conditions that have been uninsured for six months.

Starting January 1st, 2014, the only factors that insurers will be able to use to alter the price you pay will be age, family size, whether you smoke, and where you live. Health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges will exist for individuals and small businesses, and insurance will be subsidized according to income. Medicaid will also be expanded to include more people.

Today, Suzanne’s son and husband are on one independent plan, and she’s on another. And it’s expensive. They spend close to $1300 a month to be insured. But in the future, she will be able to shop around and compare plans. Suzanne says that she sees the light at the end of the tunnel personally, as well as big changes ahead for rural communities and the future of farming.

“Small towns are crying out for jobs. But we have people doing jobs they don’t want for the insurance. These jobs could be filled by others, but instead people are waiting until they have Medicare,” she said. Health care reform means people will no longer have to sacrifice their lifestyle for insurance access. For Suzanne’s family, and other rural people, this is priceless.

Interested in learning more about health care reform?  See health care reports from the Center for Rural Affairs and others here.